Parker Day constructs some quirky characters from Adobe Stock image captions


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For Found in Adobe Stock, It’s Nice That has commissioned creatives to explore the world of Adobe Stock and create a new series of works. The project asks a creative to dive into the depths of Adobe Stock as a starting point, then devise new short stories or create new worlds from chosen images. We follow each creative’s journey on their stock narrative endeavours and unpack how they use their individual findings to make new innovative final pieces.

Parker Day is interested in characters and how they come across in a single image. Somewhere in between reality and fantasy, the Los Angeles-based artist carefully constructs new narratives through a thoughtful combination of set design, styling, make up and of course, photography. For Parker, no visual cue is too big or small in building a character. Whether it’s a mindfully placed white fluffy dog keychain hung off a tumble of keys on a chain-come-choker, or an uncertain-looking young man, covered in a dripping red ink that looks a lot like blood; each and every one of Parker’s surreal compositions provides a fully thought through character.

“I’m interested in how personality expresses itself through aesthetics and how a story can be communicated in a single image,” Parker tells It’s Nice That. With this in mind, we approached Parker with a brief to create one of her characterful pieces, based only off the title of an Adobe Stock image, without ever seeing the original photograph attached to it. Immediately thinking, “this is perfect for me,” Parker began staging photographs centred on the characters described. “Having just the titles as a springboard was very natural for me,” she explains.

Presented with five stimulating titles from the Adobe Stock library, Parker’s imagination began to run riot with the simply put: Young Man in the Bird Park, Young Boy with Mud on his Face Sticking his Finger in his Nose, Portrait of a Cowboy Man, Smiling Woman with Piggy Bank and Redhead Sisters.

Always preferring to add “a little subversion” or a “dash of darkness” to her work, she knew the commission would allow her to “twist these innocent prompts ever so slightly” in her trademark Parker style. For the American photographer, the commission suited her usual working processes, allowing her to dream up original characters with enough narrative power to pour out from a single image. “Honestly, it makes me want to consider more Stock photo image titles as starting points for my work,” she adds.

“I’m always taking disjointed notes for new ideas I have,” says Parker on the beginnings of her creative process. Frequently noting down entries that spontaneously come into her head, Parker’s notes app features captions such as “lot lizard”, “invisible woman” and “covered in mud” which she jots down then later revisits in more detail when planning a shoot. She prefers to ideate from words rather than images. “I loathe mood boards and think they encourage derivative work,” she says on the matter. “Don’t get me wrong, I’m looking at images constantly.” But for Parker, when it comes to making images, she instinctively trusts that all her points of inspiration are naturally inside her, ready to burst out in a mode of artistic expression that is unique to her.

For her first creation Young Man in the Bird Park, Parker initially asked herself, “who is this young man and why is he in a bird park?” She came up with a storyline involving a bird lover who is “eager to get close to the birdies.” The caption reminded her of a friend, Orchid Satellite who used to wear “those stinky little Real Tree air fresheners around her neck during elementary school.” An unusual fashion choice, and an even less pleasant smelling sensation for her fellow classmates, Parker decided to adorn the bird loving character with the same accessory.

“This young man is wearing the pine Real Trees because he’s trying to blend in with the trees in the park to attract birds,” says Parker. From there, the rest of the image started to take form naturally. She gave him a wig that also acts as a birds nest (birds and all), a pair of binoculars and of course, a nose plug “because he couldn’t stand his own pine stench!”

When it came to creating an image for Young Boy with Mud on his Face Sticking his Finger in his Nose, it was Parker’s initial thoughts of “he sounded like a real brat to me” that drove the image forwards. She imagined something along the lines of Alfalfa from Little Rascals meeting Beaver Cleaver “but gone to the dark side.” Delighted to find a suitable Chuck E. Cheese t-shirt to dress her model with (because the family entertainment company reminded her of brats and bullies from youth,) Parker transports us back to her childhood filled with pizza parties with her second image.

As for the mud however, the brown gunge presented a more difficult substance to recreate, especially “when you live in dry ass Los Angeles,” she jokes. “It is not easy finding or making good looking mud!” Refusing to give up, she went down to her nearest hardware store and ended up mixing a variety of soils in her Vitamix (a kind of blender) in an attempt to make a “smooth slurry”; something that everyone who has lived in a rainy climate (like the UK) is more than familiar with.

The role of the young boy with mud on his face fell to Cooper Kenward, who is also incidentally, the same model (though he doesn’t look it) in Young Man in the Bird Park. An “expressive and versatile” man, Parker thought it would be fun to have a few different versions of the same model in one series. For her third character interpretation however, sparked by the title Portrait of a Cowboy Man, Parker combined her childhood interest for Cowboy Curtis of Pee-Wee’s Playhouse with the black cowboy renaissance which is all the rage in pop culture currently. “I’m all for it,” says Parker, “especially with Lil Nas X, so I knew I wanted this character to be equally flashy and strong but I wanted to add some absurdity with the fuzzy pogo pony.”

The artist Boy Chad AKA Jarrett immediately came to mind for the photographer, especially because she’d seen him do a pink cowboy look before. “I love the personality and confidence he brought to this character,” she says of his goofy expression tucked under a tiger striped cowboy hat while stroking a hobby horse with a red plastic comb – all fantastic additions to the alternative patriotic image.

Next, for Smiling Woman with Piggy Bank, Parker asked herself a different character-based question. “Why is she smiling?” she contemplated on this dubious stock image title. “And whose piggy bank is it?” Creating a storyline around a smiling woman considering breaking open the piggy bank that belongs to her sister, Parker adorned her model in “long red dagger nails” perfect for picking into the piggy while suggesting something slightly sinister at the same time. She found some children’s overalls to dress the model Olive in (a befitting costume to suit her petiteness) and directed a performance that brought out the character’s youthful innocence and mature deviousness simultaneously.

Lastly, for the fifth and final image, Redhead Twins, Parker drew inspiration from Stanley Kubrick’s cult classic The Shining. “I already had one long orange wig which I loved so I ordered another and that informed the colour scheme of the shoot,” says Parker on the duplicate-themed image. Casting real sisters Parker and Kansas Bowling to take part in the shoot, Parker highlighted the close (and authentic) relationship between the sisters. “I don’t think there would have been the right chemistry with people who weren’t that close,” she says. During the shoot, Parker directed the twins to portray a number of different personalities, but in the end, she knew she wanted to create “a vibe that was creepy and foreboding to contrast with the playful colours.”

Ultimately inspiring people to let out their inner oddity – “Be free, be a freak!” she says on her innovative practice, Parker never fails to indict a sense of fun through her playful work. Using the Stock image titles as a verbal cue to spring from, her limitless visual expression is abundant in this entertaining commission, epitomising the quirky photographer’s unique ability to develop original characters and tell their story through one single image.

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About the Author

Jyni Ong

Jyni joined It’s Nice That as an editorial assistant in August 2018 after graduating from The Glasgow School of Art’s Communication Design degree. In March 2019 she became a staff writer and in June 2021, she was made associate editor.

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